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Is Ballistic Missile Defense Worth The Money

File photo: US Navy SM-2 Block 4a Ballistic Missile.
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) Sep 28, 2006
America's missile defense programs are currently surging ahead far better than their critics expected. But at the same time, even if the programs deliver all the promise that their most ardent champions have predicted for them, they will still be able to deliver only a fraction of what the American public is being told by many pundits that they can do.

As we noted in our previous BMD Focus column, September has proved to be a banner month for ballistic missile defense in the United States and around the world. However, critics of the program argue that despite its recent successes, it is and will remain a colossal waste of many that could be better spent on other aspects of U.S. security.

"Currently, America has no effective defense against ballistic weapons fired from overseas, despite decades of effort and $95 billion dollars spent on trying to build such a defense. For example, we are spending about $9 billion this year on missile defense, which exceeds the entire budget of the Environmental Protection Agency," Warren Langley, former president of the Pacific Stock Exchange and a board member of Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities, wrote in a commentary distributed by earlier this month.

"Missile defense technology, first advanced by President Ronald Reagan, has never performed reliably in tests, even in highly controlled situations that are far from the conditions that the real world would require," Langley argued.

Before the successful Sept. 1 test of the Alaska-based GBI, "One successful test occurred in 2002, followed by two failures and one success. Thomas Christie, the Pentagon's top testing official from 2001-2005 recently told Bloomberg News that he does not have confidence in the system, despite the high expenditures," Langley wrote.

Langley agreed with Lawrence Korb, assistant secretary of defense under President Reagan, and now an analyst at the Center for American Progress, an influential think tank run by President Bill Clinton's former chief of staff John Podesta, that a far more likely nuclear threat to the Untied States was that a nuclear bomb could be smuggle into the United States in a truck or ship. No BMD system could argue against that kind of threat, he argued.

Langley noted that "fewer than 10 percent of cargo containers entering America's ports are inspected. For the amount we're spending on missile defense, America could hire about 150,000 cargo inspectors."

"Though you might find a few duds among those new inspectors, it's a virtual certainty that they would do their job as advertised and provide a real added measure of security for America, not a false one," he wrote.

"In the end, the debate about missile defense turns out to be about an investment strategy for our nation," Langley argued.

"If a CEO were deciding whether to pursue missile defense, he or she would ask about the trade-offs involved -- how effective is the system versus alternatives that also provide defensive capabilities, and how much do missiles cost versus other potential defense investments?

"With the budget so tight in Washington, America has to take these business-like questions seriously," he wrote.

"From a bang-for-your-buck business point of view, do we build a defense system that may never work, for enemy missiles that do not yet exist?"

Langley is unquestionably right in following Korb in assessing the very real threat of a nuclear device being smuggled into the United States, and the consequent need to massively increase the number of cargo inspectors monitoring sea, air and overland cargo imports by an exponential degree. The allocation of the enormous federal expenditures approved by Congress following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks leaves no doubt that the Bush administration has left this aspect of homeland defense far down its list of priorities.

However, Langley's CEO argument about the cost-effectiveness of America's current BMD systems is a misleading one. The rate of technological progress in various parts of the U.S. BMD program is remarkably fast, and some parts of the program, such as the Patriot PAC-3 system, have already attained an impressively high rate of credibility in their test interceptions.

Even areas of major failures or highly problematic capabilities, like the Ground-Based Midcourse Interceptors at Fort Greeley, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., can trace the main cause of their failures to disastrous political decisions like those of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his senior aides to rush-deploy the GBIs without component-testing them sufficiently first. That is the kind of problem that can be corrected and overcome, even if it takes years of effort and billions of dollars to do it.

Nor can the hypothesis that some nation may fire one or more intercontinental ballistic missiles at American cities be dismissed as inconceivable. All the current systems operating at their theoretical peak capacity would be utterly unable to defend the United States against a massed attack by the Russia's strategic rocket forces, with its 2,400 warheads - at the very least.

But they could mean the difference between life and thermonuclear mass death for tens of millions of Americans if other nations such as Iran or North Korea ever launched only one or a handful of ICBMs against this country. With such stakes at risk, supposedly "rational" CEO economic arguments suddenly look billions of dollars wise, but millions of lives foolish.

Source: United Press International

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Seoul (AFP) Sep 30, 2006
South Korea plans to buy second-hand Patriot missiles from Germany and some equipment from the United States to beef up its air defence capability, military authorities said Saturday. The Defence Acquisition Programme Administration (DAPA) has asked Germany and the United States to suggest terms for supplying Patriot missiles and related equipment, DAPA said.

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